Jones v. Union Pac. R.R. Co., SD34184

Decision Date18 October 2016
Docket NumberNo. SD34184,SD34184
Citation508 S.W.3d 159
Parties Joanne JONES, Quincy Dwayne Jones, Chris Jones, and Anthony Jones, Appellants, v. UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY, Respondent.
CourtMissouri Court of Appeals

Appellant's attorneys: Louis C. Accurso, Clayton E. Gillette & Andrew H. McCue.

Respondent's attorneys: Booker T. Shaw, David A Dick, Thomas E. Jones & Harlan A. Harla

REVERSED AND REMANDED

DANIEL E. SCOTT, J.

Arnold Jones died in 2010 when a train hit his pickup at a rural crossing in Butler County. Appellants ("Plaintiffs") sued Respondent ("Railroad") for wrongful death, alleging that the crossing was ultrahazardous and the crossing warnings were inadequate. Railroad raised the affirmative defense of federal preemption, which required proof that the crossing had been improved with federal funds, and later obtained summary judgment on that basis.

On appeal, Plaintiffs concede that federal funding equals preemption, but urge that the summary judgment record does not prove federal spending at this crossing.1 We agree, and thus reverse and remand for further proceedings.

Key Summary Judgment Principles

"Our review is de novo using the same criteria the trial court should have employed without deference to that court's decision." Lackey v. Iberia R V School Dist. , 487 S.W.3d 57, 58 (Mo.App. 2016) (citing ITT Comm. Fin. Corp. v. Mid Am. Marine Supply Corp. , 854 S.W.2d 371, 376 (Mo. banc 1993) ).

What compels reversal here is so often overlooked, even by lawyers and trial judges as skilled as these, that we recently emphasized in Lackey , 487 S.W.3d at 60–62, and again reemphasize that:

• Facts come into a summary judgment record only via Rule 74.04(c)'s numbered-paragraphs-and-responses framework.2
Courts determine and review summary judgment based on that Rule 74.04(c) record, not the whole trial court record.3
• Affidavits, exhibits, discovery, etc. generally play only a secondary role, and then only as cited to support Rule 74.04(c) numbered paragraphs or responses,4since parties cannot cite or rely on facts outside the Rule 74.04(c) record .5
• To come full circle, "summary judgment rarely if ever lies, or can withstand appeal, unless it flows as a matter of law from appropriate Rule 74.04(c) numbered paragraphs and responses alone ."6
Application and Resulting Issue

Railroad won on an affirmative defense (federal preemption), so we can affirm only if the parties' Rule 74.04(c) numbered paragraphs and responses establish that defense's only disputed element (federal funds spent on crossing). See Lackey , 487 S.W.3d at 61. Thus we review de novo a narrow issue that was Railroad's burden to prove: do Rule 74.04(c) paragraphs and responses prove such spending beyond genuine dispute?

O'Bannon

Railroad urges that its summary judgment victory on federal preemption in O'Bannon v. Union Pacific RR. , 169 F.3d 1088 (8th Cir. 1999), compels us to affirm. We disagree,7 but will summarize O'Bannon because Railroad has used it as a template here.

In O'Bannon , Railroad established that a 1979 Missouri PSC order authorized the Highway Commission to contract with Railroad's predecessor Missouri Pacific to install two reflectorized crossbucks at each of the railroad's public crossings not already so equipped; the state to reimburse the railroad 90% of the cost with federal funds. Attached to the contract was a tabulation of Missouri crossings that included the "Sellers Road" crossing in Pettis County (later the accident site) and listed one crossbuck there. Id. at 1089.

In 1982, a Highway Commission employee recommended payment for 222 reflectorized crossbucks installed in his district, which included Pettis County, which would have entitled the railroad to $31,660 at the 90% rate. A year later, the state paid the railroad $34,488 "for the installation of crossbucks in Missouri." Id. Per Missouri records, the railroad was to install 1,300 crossbucks statewide. In 1982, the railroad reported that it had installed almost all of those. Were this true, the state should have paid the railroad some $175,700 in federal funds, but the only evidence of payment was the $34,488 received in 1983. Id. Despite the dollar-inconsistencies, the Eighth Circuit found that "[t]he inference is very strong that the installation at the Sellers Road crossing was paid for" (id. at 1090 ) and affirmed summary judgment. Id. at 1091.

Here, Railroad sought to replicate most of an O'Bannon -like summary judgment record—the 1979 PSC order and federally-funded crossbucks contract; a tabulation that included this Butler County crossing and listed one crossbuck there; Missouri Pacific's "third and final bill" of $39,252.60 for crossbucks in Butler and other counties; and Highway Department correspondence recommending payment of $24,488.

But in apparent contrast to O'Bannon , Railroad did not directly assert as a material fact here that its bill was paid in whole or part, or that it received any money, federal or otherwise, much less the dispositive fact of federal funding at this specific crossing which arguably is the sole material fact for summary judgment. See Custer , 492 S.W.3d at 215. In this and other respects, the summary judgment procedure below was hardly "by the book."

Procedural Background of This Case

As noted, Railroad's Rule 74.04(c)(1) statement of uncontradicted material facts ("SUMF") did not directly assert federal funding at this crossing, but proposed circumstantial proof purportedly supported by various documents attached as Exhibit 10 (34 pages) and Exhibit 12 (22 pages).8

Plaintiffs denied the SUMF because the supporting documents were unauthenticated hearsay. "Hearsay statements cannot be considered in ruling on the propriety of summary judgment." United Petroleum Serv., Inc. v. Piatchek , 218 S.W.3d 477, 481 (Mo.App. 2007). "Only evidence that is admissible at trial can be used to sustain or avoid summary judgment." Id. quoted in Weltmer v. Signature Health Services Inc. , 417 S.W.3d 856, 862–63 (Mo.App. 2014). Documents, to be admissible, must meet authentication and hearsay foundational requirements. Weltmer, 417 S.W.3d at 863.

In its reply, Railroad repackaged and resubmitted 40 of its 56 prior "support" pages as follows:

• Exhibit 16—16 pages plus a 2015 "Certification of Records" by Pamela J. Harlan, Secretary of the Highway Commission, stating that the attached 16 pages were a full, true, and complete copy of the 1979 PSC order "as the same appears of record in the office of the Commission."
• Exhibit 17—24 pages plus a 2001 "Certification" by Mari Ann Winters, (formerly) Secretary of the Highway Commission, stating that the attached "837 consecutively numbered pages" were "as the same appears of record in the office of the Commission."9

Plaintiffs deposed Ms. Harlan and Ms. Winters, then moved to strike the certifications and exhibits. In subsequent briefing, Railroad submitted an affidavit by James Hesse, a retired railroad attorney. Plaintiffs moved to strike Hesse's affidavit, obtained leave to depose Hesse and did so, and the deposition was emailed to the trial court at its request the Saturday before trial.

Throughout all this time, Railroad never sought to amend, supplement, or change its original SUMF other than repackaging and resubmitting Exhibits 16 & 17.

The Sunday before trial, the court ruled that "federal funds were expended on the crossbucks in question" and Plaintiffs' subject claims were preempted. After the court entered formal judgment accordingly, Plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed their remaining claims and filed this appeal.

SUMF Cure Generally Ineffective

Railroad's reply resubmission of supporting pages as new Exhibits 16 & 17 generally failed to cure its SUMF's reliance on inadmissible hearsay or Plaintiffs' objections thereto.

Exhibit 16

Exhibit 16 establishes the 1979 PSC order and statewide contract cited in O'Bannon and the SUMF, but not that crossbucks were installed in Butler County. It might certify that Missouri Pacific's 1982 letter to the PSC on that issue can be found in Highway Commission records,10 but the letter is hearsay.

Although our supreme court left open "the question of the proper scope of the common law public records exception" as to hearsay in Rodriguez v. Suzuki Motor Corp. , 996 S.W.2d 47, 57 (Mo. banc 1999), we find guidance in that court's recent business records decision and cases cited therein:

[A] document that is prepared by one business cannot qualify for the business records exception merely based on another business's records custodian testifying that it appears in the files of the business that did not create the record. State v. Anderson, 413 S.W.2d 161, 165 (Mo.1967) ; Zundel v. Bommarito, 778 S.W.2d 954, 958 (Mo.App.1989) ("The business records exception to the hearsay rule applies only to documents generated by the business itself.... Where the status of the evidence indicates it was prepared elsewhere and was merely received and held in a file but was not made in the ordinary course of the holder's business it is inadmissible and not within a business record exception to the hearsay rule under § 490.680, RSMo 1986.") A custodian of records cannot meet the requirements of § 490.680 by simply serving as "conduit to the flow of records" and not testifying to the mode of preparation of the records in question.

CACH, LLC v. Askew , 358 S.W.3d 58, 63 (Mo. banc 2012) (also citing C & W Asset Acquisition, LLC v. Somogyi , 136 S.W.3d 134, 140 (Mo.App. 2004) ); see also Asset Acceptance v. Lodge , 325 S.W.3d 525, 528–29 (Mo.App. 2010).11

Exhibit 17

As noted above, this exhibit's certification is facially irregular, dated in 2001 and purporting to certify 837 pages when only 24 pages are attached. At deposition, Ms. Winters testified that this "was not the original certification" she signed in 2001, and further admitted she could not even testify that its 24 pages were part of the 837 pages she had earlier certified. Thus we cannot consider either Exhibit 17...

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